The final of the 2013 Walt Disney Pro Soccer Championship (pre-season tournament) was played between the MLS’s Columbus Crew and Montreal Impact. Most games in this year’s tournament were decided by one goal so it was no surprise that the Championship contest would be a low scoring affair.
The Montreal Impact approach is different than most MLS teams. They ran a 4-1-4-1 formation leaving their players spread wide, slowing the game’s pace, offering a lot of passing on the corners, and more importantly forcing Columbus’ players to chase their constant passing. It tires them while controlling the possession of the ball. But controlling the clock with possession isn’t everything. It’s not that kind of Football!
Montreal’s game plan isn’t much for fans as far as exciting viewing but it does grant them a lot more chances on goal. This really frustrated the Columbus Crew. In the first sixteen minutes, Montreal held the ball but had no real shots on goal. (In fact there was no scoring in the first half.) But Columbus grew impatient and things got tense. In the seventeenth minute things finally came to a head as Montreal’s Andrae Pisanu retaliated against a Columbus player who had only minutes before taken a cheap shot on him. Pisanu received a yellow card for violently elbowing the Crew player in the face. (Should have been a red card.)
Montreal played a great game when they held the ball. As soon as Columbus moved with it they became frustrated and played very dirty. Their overly aggressive reactionary defensive style not only slowed the game but it encouraged theatrics on the field. Even if this is a tournament, it’s not a post season game, there was no need for these shenanigans.
Montreal’s mid fielder Davy Arnaud played a great first half though, really impressing. Arnaud gave chase, pressed the Crew’s mid field, setting up chances for the Impact, and offered some decent passing. Arnaud is definitely key to the Impact’s 2013 MLS campaign. If he keeps up the extra effort all year they will do fine. If not, Montreal doesn’t have a deep enough talent pool to offer depth. They are short on speed and really need technical play to get anything going.
On the other side, watching the Columbus Crew provides some puzzling issues. The Crew are poor in the mid field and desperately need some players with good ball handling skills. They are constantly giving up possession because of players losing the ball. This isn’t a great sign for a team that should have a good season in 2013.
However, the really troubling part of this championship final is something hard to nail down. Players spent most of the game taking dives, spending a lot of time on the ground writhing in pain before hopping up as if nothing had happened at all. It felt like I was watching a French national team game with all that dramatic acting.
The Crew clearly took dives to slow things down as their stamina wasn’t high in the first half. They are not in regular season shape yet for sure.
Columbus struggled to find an answer to the Impact’s 4-1-4-1 formation. As time ticked on the Crew became more and more frustrated ratcheting up the cheap shots, taking unneccassary risks with their cleats held high on tackles, shoving players to the ground. Montreal was incredibly dirty in response to this. Also cleating the Crew’s players in response.
This sort of behavior wasn’t popular as the game went on. Players began charging in to attack midfielders with their arms up and sort of hockey checking each other to the ground.
When the head ref finally intervened it only slowed the dirty play for a few minutes. In the first fifteen minutes of the second half, there were a lot of fouls, an injury for the Crew, and a sub to take Oduro out and put Finley in. The Crew needed to sub to get some momentum from fresh legs though, but didn’t really take advantage.
In fact, the only time Columbus held the ball was to keep it in the middle and slow Montreal’s wide open passing. Columbus just didn’t have the legs to keep chasing in pursuit.
They just hoped to catch a breath from the Impact’s formational pass happy play. Even at half, when the Crew’s coach was interviewed, he openly admitted that he expected much more out of his squad. He said, “I really thought we would get more effort out of them” and “We are going to have to give much more effort and speed up the tempo out there.”
They didn’t really heed his words. Once Montreal got back to work, they pushed forward in the 54th minute as Justin Mapp’s neat chance curved in to the left of the goal, sliding in against the left post, granting the Impact a 1-0 lead.
In the 71st minute the Crew and Impact made several quick subs to give the game some fresh legs. Columbus had no choice. They had to put someone in to give them a chance at all.
The impact only made one sub, seemingly to give them a defender in case the fresh legged Crew subs. Something the Crew didn’t take advantage of again. In fact in the 73rd minute the Crew’s defense received a yellow card for shuffling forward toward the ball on a free kick before it was shot, something kind of amateurish for MLS players to do.
Montreal finally earned a yellow in the final moments of the game as Matteo Ferraro leapt in to tackle a ball away from a break away Crew forward, taking ALL BALL but wiping out the forward in a big collision. He probably should have been just fouled and a free kick given, but the dirty play was so out of hand, the ref had to do something.
In this Championship alone, six MLS teams competed against the Orlando City Soccer club and the Orlando Rowdies. So at the very least Montreal and Columbus looked good against this field of competitors. But I wouldn’t say either of these finalists look ready to put up a MLS Cup performance. If I had to pick a performance, the Impact are in better shape as the regular season is just around the corner. The Crew need to get better in many areas to be ready even for everyday competition in the MLS whereas the Impact’s uncommon formation and pass happy approach will continue to frustrate defenders and offer chances for their opponents to make mistakes. Lose track of one of their wide spread forwards, and it’s too late to adjust, and a great moment to score.
Montreal won the Pro Soccer Classic Championship by scoring only one goal in the final. The Crew were just not ready. ( A good sign for the MLS was that both sides shook hands, talked strategy, and made amends for their play after the final whistle. It was a very dirty game, but the MLS has some classy vets who wouldn’t walk off the field with all that hostility.
To wrap up, the opening day for the MLS is March 02, 2013, with several match ups to get excited about. First off is the Philadelphia Union vs. Sporting Kansas City (a favorite to win their division this year).
For the team’s in tonight’s Championship, Columbus opens against Chivas USA and Montreal opens against the Seattle Sounders. (a very tough game against a strong goal tender and very solid defense which will make it a hard win for the Impact.) I want to see a better game played by the Impact without all the dirty, constant cheap shots, and retaliatory responses when they lose the ball on the attack. Grow up guys, its professional ball, not a high school rivalry game.
Montreal looked very good defensively, making their team look much more prepared than their opponents. If they can shape up on the dirty stuff, their uncommon approach could provide them with a stellar year. They have some depth at key positions but no huge names.
All and all it was a fun game to watch. As a fan, it’s great to see the MLS building for the future of the league, sustaining their growth, and showcasing talent in preseason.
This tournament just re-enforces how we have the year taking shape. We expect Montreal to be in the middle of the fight for a post season spot, we also see the Crew as a potential post season competitor, but a lot depends on the first five weeks. Montreal starts off against very good teams. If the Crew beat Chivas USA in their opener, expect that momentum to carry them. But I don’t expect it to carry them far.
Sorry Columbus fans. They just aren’t that good right now!
Watch for our coverage of the remaining pre-season matches and opening day in the coming weeks.
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